How many Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine?

29 September 2022
What was claimed

Fifty-five thousand Russian troops have lost their lives fighting in Ukraine.

Our verdict

Although the nature of any armed conflict makes it impossible to obtain accurate statistics, there are good reasons to doubt this figure.

“The Russian people are today waking up to … the fact that…fifty-five thousand of their troops have already lost their lives in the short, six-month conflict.”

“Our losses to date are 5,937 dead.”

“Russian casualties continue to climb, with an estimated 25,000 Russian dead.”

During an appearance on the Today programme on 21 September, foreign minister Gillian Keegan claimed that 55,000 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine.

This figure, which appears to have been taken directly from the daily update provided by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, is significantly higher than the death toll suggested by western intelligence services, other branches of the UK government and independent analysts of the conflict. 

That doesn’t mean the figure is definitely wrong, but there are legitimate reasons to be sceptical.

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Sources of information

Obtaining accurate information about losses on the battlefield is notoriously difficult. Casualty estimation uses a combination of intercepted communications on both sides, satellite imagery and "contact reports" where troops in battle estimate how much damage they have inflicted on the other side, but all such calculations involve an element of guesswork.

Each side may also have a vested interest in making the numbers suit their needs. It’s been suggested Ukraine may be exaggerating its claims about Russian deaths to some degree in order to boost morale. Russia may be underplaying its own death toll for the same reason leaving the true figure somewhere in between.

An added complication with estimating Russian casualties in the war in Ukraine is that Russian military deaths are reportedly classed as state secrets, and divulging them can result in prison sentences. 

However, most estimates of Russian casualties are below the figure from the Ukrainian armed forces.

Other estimates 

Full Fact approached the Ministry of Defence for an official UK figure and it directed us to an estimate of 25,000 Russian deaths used by the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, during a House of Commons debate on 5 September, adding that they were unable to comment on figures quoted by other branches of the government. 

Mr Wallace used the same figure in June while attending a NATO summit, so it may be out of date.. 

The same figure was also used by defence minister James Heappey during a debate at the House of Commons on 22 September, the day after Ms Keegan talked to the BBC. 

As of 16 September, the BBC Russian service, with independent Russian media outlet Mediazona, had counted 6,476 dead soldiers and officers, based only on confirmed death reports and estimated the true total to be at least 40% to 60% higher than this figure. That would suggest a total significantly lower than the one quoted by Ms Keegan.

In July, during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum, MI6 chief Richard Moore put the then death toll at 15,000 but admitted this was “a conservative estimate”. 

At the same event, CIA director William Burns responded to the question of Russian casualties by saying: “Well it's always a range and you know there's no there's no perfect number. I think the latest estimates from the US Intelligence Community would be, you know, something in the vicinity of 15,000 killed and maybe three times that wounded.”

And in early August, the US government estimated there had been up to 80,000 casualties, including those wounded. 

Is 55,000 deaths realistic?

One reason to be sceptical of the 55,000 figure is that it appears to make little allowance for the number of soldiers injured during the fighting. 

The typical ratio of those wounded to those killed during armed conflict has historically hovered around the 3:1 mark. However, according to researchers from the Belfer Centre at Harvard University, advances in battlefield medical care mean most modern armies have managed to improve this ratio. In the US, the ratio currently ranges from 10:1 to 17:1. 

Having amassed an initial invasion force of around 190,000, a wounded to killed ratio of 3:1 would mean that, if 55,000 were dead, a number equivalent to every member of the remaining initial fighting force would have been wounded. 

Though, this does assume the Russian forces operating in Ukraine haven’t been replenished since the start of the invasion. 

Russian admissions

On that same day Ms Keegan spoke to the BBC, Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu told Russian state broadcaster RT that 5,937 of the country’s troops had died in the conflict—the first official update the Kremlin had provided since the end of March, when its Defence Ministry claimed that 1,351 soldiers had died.

At first glance these figures appear to be far too low, especially given that Vladimir Putin recently announced a partial mobilisation aimed at boosting troop numbers by 300,000. It is widely accepted that Russia has suffered significant losses, especially during recent weeks during which Ukraine has launched a successful counter-offensive. 

However, Pat Willerton, a professor of political science at the University of Arizona and an expert on Russian politics told Full Fact the number may be misleading rather than strictly inaccurate.

As the bulk of the fighting is being carried out by soldiers drafted in from Russian-controlled regions of Donetsk and Lugansk which are part of Ukraine, along with a large number of mercenaries, these casualties may not be included in the total reported by Russia. 

Professor Willteron told Full Fact: “Russian servicemen have played a more background support role.  While I believe a good number of Russian servicemen died during the first month of the fighting, back in February-March, since then I posit it has declined considerably.”

We have written to Ms Keegan to ask for clarification on her use of the figure of 55,000 Russian casualties and are awaiting a response. 

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